Crisis communications is not all crisis transmit — you need to crisis receive, too

2nd May, 2014

Are you all talk in a crisis? In 15 years of being involved with major incident and multi-agency planning, exercises and response, one of the things that stuns me time after time is the reversion to type by otherwise worldly press officers.
Under pressure, there is a tendency to go old school and start to transmit, transmit, transmit. Get it out there and keep pushing it out there.
And we forget to check what people outside the bunker are actually saying.
The urge to tell the public/customer/audience what’s going on and what we’re doing about as quickly and openly as possible is hugely admirable — I’m a big advocate for establishing that you are THE source on this, to protect your reputation before it’s damaged.
Having a crisis communications plan that involves a website page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and group send ready to go on the email is fundamental. Having a template for how you will get information out there quickly and effectively, and if where you will go to for crisis support, is bright. Having media trained spokespeople identified and ready really is a good idea.
But if you’re all give and no take, all talk and no listen, you’re in trouble.
When you divvy up your limited resources, it can feel hugely wasteful to put a press officer solely onto media monitoring. They aren’t creating, aren’t writing, aren’t researching, aren’t answering the phone. They aren’t even fetching the coffee.
What they ARE doing is making you a listener as well as a talker. They’re taking the temperature, gauging the way the wind is blowing, and feeding back crucial misperceptions, interpretations, assumptions and downright fabrications. And giving you the chance to address them, allay the fears, scotch the rumours and right the wrongs.
Communication is about talk-listen-talk-listen. Crisis communications is the same. Just faster.